Teens and the Internet
The computer is now a common item in most homes and most of today's teens have grown up using computers. According to a recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, only one percent of teens (15-17) have never used a computer. Roughly 95 percent of teens use the internet. Some of the most common reasons for going online include sending e-mail and instant messages, researching school reports, obtaining current news, and looking for information about movies, music, or television programs. Roughly 68 percent of teens report getting health information online and 15 percent of them do so at least once a week.
The majority of teens (83 percent) have internet access from the home; 29 percent can go online in the privacy of their own bedroom. Other sources of internet access are the school, a friend's house, local library, and a relative's home.
Teens and Online Sex
While the internet allows access to some very resourceful material, it also has many questionable sites. The Kaiser Family Foundation survey found 70 percent of teens who use the internet have accidentally stumbled across a pornography site. About 14 percent of the youth say it happens somewhat often and nine percent say it happens very often. Just under half (45 percent) of the teens who came across online pornography said they were upset by the experience, while 25 percent said they weren't upset at all.
Another concern along similar lines is online sexual solicitation. Last year, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found 19 percent of youth 10 to 17 received at least one online sexual solicitation in the past year. Roughly 25 percent of those solicited reported being very upset or afraid by the encounter. Risk for sexual solicitation was higher among girls, users of chat rooms; those who talked to strangers online, engaged in risky behaviors (such as posting personal information, making nasty comments, playing a joke, talking about sex with anonymous others, or purposely going to X-rated sites), or used the internet at someone else's home.
Reducing the Risk of Unwanted Online Exposure to Sex
Several organizations offer tips for parents to reduce the risk of a child being exposed online to sexually oriented material and solicitations. Experts recommend learning about the computer, internet, and the sites generally used by a child. Keep the computer out of the bedroom and in a public area, such as the family room. Talk to your child about sites to be avoided and your expectations of internet and chat room use. Monitor the time a child uses the internet and check out websites visited by him/her. Never give out any personal information and avoid using online profiles with personal information. Warn children never to trust a stranger in a chat room or online service - adults sometimes pose as children to gain confidence and trust for easier exploitation.
Parents can add password protection to the internet. In this case, a child can't go online until an adult types in the access password. Software filters are also available to block objectionable sites. About 33 percent of homes use some type of filter on their computers. However, the programs can also block non-pornographic sites that contain sexually oriented materials, such as health sites with information on reproduction.
Children and teens are generally considered very impressionable. No one really knows the short-term and long-terms effects of accessing online pornography or sexual solicitations. Researchers will soon begin a nation-wide study of 900 adolescents. The investigators will look at the participants' use of the internet and any influences the web may have on initiation of sexual activity.
For information and general tips: The Children's Partnership, 4000 Albemarle St., NW, Suite 306, Washington, DC 20016, wWw.childrenspartnership.org
Enough is Enough, PO Box 26228, Santa Anna, CA 92799-6228, (714) 435-9056, wWw.enough.org